A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine dropped by for a beer and brought me the jar of Puttanesca Pasta Sauce you see pictured above. The timing was rather coincidental as I had been planning to do a blog post about Puttanesca Sauce for some time now as it is a favorite of mine and the origin of the name, which essentially means ‘Prostitute’s Sauce’, is a bit of a mystery. On reading the label, I was informed that Pasta Puttanesca was ‘first served in a popular night spot on the island of Ischia in the 1950’s’. This is the first time I have heard that tidbit of information and it is something I want to research a little further. I still plan to do a more detailed post on the Puttanesca Sauce, along with my own recipe, so for today I’ll save any further discussion of the origins and restrict myself to a taste test of the instant product…
The ingredients listed on the jar label include tomato and tomato paste, olive oil and olive paste, olives, capers, onion, sugar, vinegar, white wine, anchovy paste, garlic, oregano and chili powder. All of these are pretty standard components of a Puttanesca sauce, although I don’t ever recall coming across a recipe that used olive paste in addition to olives. As you can see, the sauce from the jar includes whole black olives and there are also whole capers hidden in there as well.
The bouquet, on opening the jar lid, is a fruity blend of olive oil and pickled capers, with the capers dominating. When you taste the sauce cold from the jar, however, the caper flavor is less pronounced than that of the olives and olive oil. The sauce is heavily rich with tomato but, surprisingly, their presence is merely a mild background in both the aroma and taste.
Spaghetti is the most common pasta for this sauce and that is what I chose here. After cooking the spaghetti, I heated a small ladleful of the sauce in a pan, being careful just to include the sauce base and none of the olives, capers, or other ‘bits’. I then sautéed the Spaghetti until the strands were not merely coated, but had actually absorbed all the sauce and its flavor.
For service, I topped the spaghetti with a little more of the heated sauce along with some shredded Parmesan. I could have added more Parmesan at the table but, in the event, I found I didn’t need it.
The bottom of line here is that this a very good Puttanesca Sauce, although it is a rather unique interpretation. First, the tangy, sweetness of many versions is downplayed here, with the very definite richness of olives and capers leading the charge, as it were. Although chili is included, there wasn’t any ‘hotness’ here, as far as I could tell and I also was unable to detect oregano, although it is clearly listed as an ingredient, As it happens, neither of these were a problem for me as I only use a very little chili when I make this sauce (some are quite hot), and I never use oregano at all. As with a number of other pasta sauces, anchovies are an ingredient but here, and generally, these are only meant to add an umami depth to the overall flavor and not necessarily to be apparent as a ‘fishy’ taste in the final result.
If you dislike olives, you may not care for this sauce but, if you enjoy them along with capers, you can find plenty of uses for it, in addition to just being a pasta topping. I only used half the jar for this taste test and I used the rest over some pork cutlets. I first browned them in a pan and the baked them smothered in the remaining sauce for about twenty minutes. The result was delicious.
Anyway, while I like cooking pasta sauces from scratch, I think this is a very decent product to have on hand in the store cupboard for those times when you need to put something together quickly in a short space of time. It has my recommendation…